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Young art teachers often pine over the day when they will have the honor of teaching advanced or AP art students. Teaching an intro to art course feels like a rite of passage, but it seems like the class is filled with freshmen who never wanted to take the class in the first place. Don’t fret – there is good news! There is so much more to teaching level one students.
You teach the core foundations.
How and what you teach will set students up for long-term success. You are not teaching students how to create underpaintings for their Renaissance-inspired oil still lifes. Instead, you are teaching students how to look at objects and translate a form onto a piece of paper. Those skills set the foundation for any future drawing or painting class.
You establish the expectations for artmaking.
We all have particular areas of focus and strength that we bring to the classroom. What you value can set up expectations for long-term development. For example, if you value the creative process, you can structure your level one classroom to support each step of the creative process as you implement each lesson. The norms you set will carry with students as they move upward and onward.
You prepare students for advanced classes.
Not every student will be interested in moving toward AP Art & Design; however, they still need to hone critical thinking skills. You get to develop a creative culture that encourages higher-level thinking. For those students who do want to take advanced courses, it is your responsibility to make sure they are ready.
Students learn that they are creative.
One of the most cringe-worthy statements art teachers hear is, “I’m not creative.” This is your chance to show students a more positive attitude. Some students haven’t taken an art class since the fifth grade—or ever! Build technical confidence by adding creativity tools to their toolbox. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there were many years in between Michaelangelo learning his ABCs and painting the Sistine Chapel. Remind them of their growth over time.
Students can’t get enough!
Another statement art teachers might hear is, “I took this class for the credit.” While we don’t always win over every student, this is your chance to show them what art is all about. Maybe one student builds confidence in their shading skills or another student discovers a newfound love of photography. Or maybe the student realizes that jewelry isn’t about stringing beads, but involves working with a torch and a saw! Regardless of what piques that reluctant student’s interest, you are the one that brings their hidden artistic self to life.
Students expand their concept of art.
Students have expectations of what an art class looks like and those expectations usually look like realistic drawings. You get to introduce students to the wide and varied world of art. Even if you are teaching a drawing-specific class, consider how to share creative thinking with your students through performance, sculpture, fibers, and even writing. In level one courses, students can connect artmaking to their own interests and passions.
Students grow an appreciation for art that builds the program.
Students don’t walk into your art program at level three. In order to build your program, students have to like art, like art class, and even like you as a person (at least a little). Help build your program by showing students how much they love art. Whether it’s through problem-solving, self-expression, or simply a class unlike other content areas, you have the power to bring them back for more. Even if they don’t take another art class, their recommendation will bring students from far and wide.
Give yourself space to manage all that comes with teaching.
Teaching is so much more than the content. When you are just starting out, you might be overwhelmed with planning, classroom management, grading, ordering supplies, sorting supplies, and attending meetings. As a veteran teacher, it can feel good to get back to basics and simplify your schedule. Teaching level one classes focuses on those foundational skills you have already honed.
Practice your skills, try a new way to teach a skill, or learn something new.
Sometimes we forget what it’s like to try something for the first time. Teaching level ones give us time to refine a skill or practice a new teaching strategy. Even if you don’t know how to do something, you just need to stay one step ahead of the students. Take the pressure off yourself because this is new to them too!
Diversify your skill set by learning a little bit of everything.
When you teach level ones, you become highly marketable as you gain a little expertise in a wide range of mediums. Foundation courses are never boring. Introduce new artists, new connections, or revamp old lessons without feeling overwhelmed by advanced techniques. The more you learn about different materials, the more you can expose and empower your students.
You meet students from all interests and areas of your school.
If art is a required class in your school, you will have students from all areas and walks of life. While this stays true as students advance, you will not see as many as in a foundations course. Students with varying interests—one who loves robotics, a varsity swimmer, and the captain of the chess team—are all brought together in your classroom.
You watch students from all four grade levels learn together.
There is nothing more satisfying than watching friendships and mentorships develop in your art class. Students who might never have met inspire each other. Students collaborate to create a meaningful installation, peer-teach a new skill, and share a compliment to build another’s self-confidence. A level one course puts every student at the same level, starting from the ground up.
You see struggling students thrive in your classroom.
Oftentimes a student who is struggling in another content area will flourish in your art room. Parents and other teachers may be under the impression that you are an “easy” teacher or that there is “no way a kid could fail art.” We all know this couldn’t be further from the truth. As you sit in IEP meetings and parent-teacher conferences, detail the incredible perseverance and critical thinking that is happening in your classroom—by their child! Enjoy the opportunity to praise a student who might not otherwise have the chance to showcase their strengths.
Teaching level one courses is an exceptional opportunity we often take for granted. Remember, teaching foundation courses helps students build more than technical skills. We are also able to identify and label a vast amount of life skills. Creative problem-solving, critical thinking, mindfulness, time management, social skills—all of these (and so many more) are essential to the art room. As you work with your level ones this year, make sure students can identify how they are building these life skills. Showing them how they can connect these skills to their lives beyond the art room will make a lasting impression. Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the gifts that a level one course brings!
What do you love about teaching a level one course?
In what ways do you support students as they advance in or move on from your program?
Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.